'It's one of those things': Bob Cooke's pie and mash shop to close down - ending East End tradition in Broadway Market
PUBLISHED: 10:56 06 May 2019 | UPDATED: 10:56 06 May 2019
When the Gazette caught up with Bob Cooke 10 years ago, he vowed his family would keep the pie and mash shop that's been in his family for four generations going as there would 'always be a little niche' for the East End tradition. Next week it's closing down. Emma Bartholomew finds out why.
“It's one of those things, and that's it. I've come to the end of my tether and it's time to have a break,” Bob Cooke told the Gazette this week.
Bob has been making pies in the shop in Broadway Market since he was five – and now he's 71.
Eel pie and mash shops are part of living history, serving up traditional London working-class food since the 18th century, and F Cooke's in Broadway Market has been going for more than 100 years.
Once his shop shuts there will be very few left in London – with Manze's in Chapel Market, Islington, also closing down this week.
Bob Cooke has always tried to run the shop the same way as in the past. The meat has always come in fresh from Smithfield Market and they make pies throughout the day – although business isn't booming like in its heyday.
“In the mid-1970s we would be making pies till the cows came home on a Saturday,” says Bob.
“At 11pm when the pubs closed it would be packed. It was a different generation.”
Owners of the fish and chip shop Fin and Flounder further up the road are buying Bob out.
They won't be able to change the iconic interior of the building much, as it's Grade II-listed.
The Cooke family has been running pie and mash shops for four generations.
Bob's great-grandfather, Robert, previously a butcher, opened their first shop just off Brick Lane in 1862.
His grandfather, Frederick, opened the shop in Broadway Market in 1900 and another in Kingsland High Street, Dalston, in 1910.
In 1959, after he died, the Dalston shop was left to Bob's uncle and then his cousin, who sold that Grade II-listed building in 1997 – which is now a dim sum restaurant.
Bob's father inherited the Broadway Market shop in 1964, and when he died in 1971, Bob and his brother Joseph – or Joe – ran it together until they bought another shop in Hoxton Street in 1987, which Joe still runs.
Traditionally, pie and mash is served with parsley sauce, better known as “liquor”.
Bob's father handed down the recipe, which he can “do with his eyes shut”.
“Often people come up to me and ask how to make the liquor, but I wouldn't give away my secret.”
And eels were a big thing in the past – live, stewed and jellied.
The River Thames was so filthy in the 18th and 19th centuries it was the only creature able to survive – and it was a cheap source of food. Bob's grandfather made eel pies until 1930. When they became too expensive, they made do with making just meat pies.
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There are racks downstairs in the yard, where until 20 years ago 3,000 eels were swimming about.
As long as there was running water, they would keep for a year or more.
Bob remembers as a kid on a Saturday constantly running up and down fetching live eels for customers.
Now the demand for live eels has died out and he stocks only stewed and jellied ones.
Until 10 years ago Bob had two customers who had been regulars for 45 years since their sons had Saturday jobs in the shop.
They were about 80 years old and would come in every Saturday. “You could tell the time by them – 12 o'clock and they were here.
But sadly they have now died.
“I have one old girl who is the best part of 90, she's quite a regular, she's the only one I know now,” said Bob.
“It's nothing like it was because a lot of the East Enders have gone.”
He also blames the decline on the emergence of fast-food outlets.
“In the past there were none and you never heard of a pizza,” he says.
“Now you go in every pub and there's food.”
And the Saturday farmers' market outside didn't help either.
“They're not really pie and mash people,” says Bob.
“They're not East End types.”
Bob has only got a week or two left until the contracts exchange.
“I'm waiting for me couple of bob,” said Bob. “I want to do it as soon as possible.”
His first plan on retirement is to have a rest, and then he will find something to do – which doesn't involve gardening.
“I'm pleased,” he said.
“I'm not upset. There's nothing I can do.
“I've been working here from day one. I've been married here and everything else. It's been enjoyable.”